Life Below The Galapagos, Part 1

Pregnant and working mechanics of brain CBS/iStockphoto

The following is the first of and a dive on the deep-sea submersible Alvin. Between May 18 and May 28, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution invited me to see what only a few scientists have observed: the Rosebud site more than 8,500 feet down in the Eastern Pacific. Here, in 1977, geothermal vents were discovered to be supporting amazing new life-forms.

When geologists first went down to this active volcanic region 250 miles east of the Galapagos Islands, they hoped to find areas where cold ocean water mixed in hot magma-chambers to produce mineral-rich water. They found much more: the super-heated vents they discovered supported a rich effusion of life. The discovery shock established views about the frigid ocean deep once believed uninhabitable. How could gigantic strange red tubeworms be thriving in the pitch dark world without sun-produced food? How could foot-long giant clams, starfish, crabs, and bizarre fish survive in chemicals once thought toxic to all life?

Based on Alvin's dives on the Galapagos Rift and at other geothermal vent sites, scientists have put forth revolutionary views on the origins of life. As the search for life on other planets continues, scientists now know there is "chemosynthetic" life on Earth. Here, microbes thrive on hydrogen sulfide which is toxic to humans. The expedition we're on returns the Alvin sub and scientists to the Galapagos Rift, to visit a newly formed colony emerging over a recent lava-flow: "Rosebud." They tell me that as a "member of the science party" I may see this miracle of life with my own eyes.



Prelude

This weekend, before the trip of a lifetime I'll be telling you about, I went back to my roots: to the old neighborhood that got me started in this crazy business. I took my kids to Coney Island, where I grew up, across the street from the Boardwalk, the Cyclone, and the Atlantic Ocean. This pilgrimage was different than the ones my kids were used to: this time, no Nathan's hot dogs, no nauseating rides on the ramshackle Ferris Wheel, or collisions on rusting bumper cars.

  • Lloyd Vries

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